Oculus (2013)

Cover art:


Oculus (2013)Starring Katee Sackhoff, Karen Gillan, James Lafferty, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan, Miguel Sandoval

Directed by Mike Flanagan

Cursed mirrors as plot devices have certainly had a bad reputation over the past few years. It was only five years ago when Alexandre Aja’s lackluster Mirrors underwhelmed viewers everywhere, and let’s not even bring up Tarsem Singh’s goofy Snow White adaptation, Mirror, Mirror. So when up-and-coming director Mike Flanagan premiered his “cursed mirror” follow-up to his successful indie hit Absentia in the Midnight Madness programme at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, there is no denying there were serious doubts that this movie was going to deliver the goods.

Luckily, Oculus has surpassed expectations.

Based loosely off Flanagan’s 2006 short Oculus: Chapter 3, the film follows two siblings who have reunited after an unspeakable and supernatural tragedy took the lives of the parents eleven years prior. When the younger sibling, Tim (Thwaites), is released from a psychiatric hospital, he is hopeful of starting a new life with the help of his older sister, Kaylie (Gillan). Unfortunately for Tim, Kaylie has different plans and holds him to a pact they made years ago to destroy a 300-year-old antique mirror in their old family home that she is convinced was responsible for the death of her parents and all of its previous owners.

Fully prepared to take down the cursed mirror, Kaylie convinces a very skeptical Tim to help her; but soon after her best laid plans go horribly awry, the duo are literally forced to re-live the massacre that took place years ago while trying to avoid the mirror’s malevolent trickery long enough to stay alive.

If you are tired of seeing paranormal films that incorporate found footage tactics or are just rehashed remakes full of cheap boo scares, then Oculus is the film for you. Flanagan has gone above and beyond with his latest directorial effort for Oculus is one of the most well-crafted, original and visceral horror films of recent years; and the fact that he is able to entertain and terrify viewers through the ultra-tight confines of an ordinary-sized house makes this film even more impressive.

To give away any of Oculus’ unique scares and how it manages to incorporate time travel in a way that hasn’t been seen before would truly do the reader a disservice. As perplexing as the film can be at times, the creativity and effort put into certain pivotal set pieces need to be experienced – completely unspoiled.

Oculus also stands out from the rest of Midnight Madness’ entries on the acting side as every cast member delivers a strong performance. Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff are extremely noteworthy while Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites are convincing as siblings and very likable to the point where it scares you whenever they’re in peril. However, the real stars are Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan, who play the younger Kaylie and Tim. These two childhood actors should be commended as they truly are the heart of the film.

Unlike Absentia, which failed in giving the audience a fulfilling payoff, Oculus succeeds in having one of the most moving conclusions this reviewer has seen, and the shocking climax is guaranteed to make you gasp and jump out of your seat. After the successful premiere of Oculus, genre fans should not be surprised that Mike Flanagan is bound to be a future household name in horror.

4 1/2 out of 5

Discuss Oculus in the comments section below!

Get this site 100% Ad Free Support Us on Patreon!

Serena Whitney

Get Your Box of Dread Now
*US Residents Only .
  • Jinx

    Little late to the party here, but count me in the “loved it” camp.

    Great idea, great characters, great performances. Guess I’m gonna have to seek out Absentia now.

  • Sirand

    I loved Oculus! Totally agree with this review.

    More movies like this please.

    • frank_dracman

      HA! Now I’m 110% sure this movie sucks.

      • Sirand

        I’m guessing A Haunted House 2 is more in your wheelhouse. >:)

        • frank_dracman

          Oh that pisses me off. How, HOW the FUCK do these stupid movies do well enough the warrant sequels?!

          I’d gladly watch Oculus than sit through half an hour of those goddamn movies.

    • Debi Moore

      Yay – another for our side! Creepy and I were starting to think we somehow saw a different movie than everyone else. Sure, the ending was telegraphed, but that’s how Flanagan built tension and dread – the wondering how it would all play out and if you could even believe what you saw when it did arrive. People looking for “scares” will be disappointed, but I loved how creepy and skeevy it was. I agree – more please.

      • Sirand

        No, it’s not just you. 😉

        This is not a horror movie made for the multiplex audience. Average Joes just want their horror to be a series of “Boo!” moments with some shocking “You got me!” twist at the end. Fuck that shit.

        Just like Absentia, Flanagan works on a higher level. He doesn’t pander and takes his time turning the screws. There’s no bullshit explanation or back-story to what’s happening. It’s a very simple, minimalist premise executed in a way that demands the audience pay attention to the characters and how the movie plays with reality. And boy, does that stuff ever pay off in the third act. Talk about unsettling!

        Everyone in my theater apparently showed up for Insidious and were pissed when they got Polanski instead. It’s a movie made for cinephiles, not dating teenagers.

        • kiddcapone

          I wouldn’t expect anything less from the guy who loved Funny Games and Yellowbrickroad.

          As always, you can’t just discuss the things about a film you personally enjoyed without the arrogant condescending attitude. Really, Oculus was only made for cinephiles, and ones who didn’t enjoy it are average joes, dating teenagers, and simpleminded A Haunted House 2 fans? Give it up. I sincerely hope that once that little girl of yours is born, you finally realize what’s really important in life, and being a pompous douche on the internet isn’t one of them.

          I paid close attention to the characters. I fully enjoyed the dynamics between the siblings. I thought the interweaving of past and present was well done and the way it played with reality was interesting. And that’s it for the positives. I don’t think the story was solid. From the implausible way she acquired the mirror, to the irrelevant mechanisms of staying one step ahead of the mirror, to the major gaps in logic, to the extremely telegraphed ending. The second they showed the dropping anvil, I said to myself, the mother is going to appear in the mirror, and one or both of them is going to be distracted and get killed….and I was almost 100% correct. Except it didn’t even happen during the climax of the film.

          I didn’t feel like there was any buildup of tension. I didn’t think the ending was unsettling. In fact, I didn’t even notice a third act? Everything jogged in place during the 2nd act towards a predictable finish and that was it. You walk away from Oculus feeling completely unsatisfied. It didn’t work as a horror film because nothing was “horrifying” in the least and you can’t even walk away entertained by a solid storyline because it was nonexistent. You learn nothing, you get nothing. The mirror was evil. The end.

          • Sirand

            “As always, you can’t just discuss the things about a film you personally enjoyed without the arrogant condescending attitude. Really, Oculus was only made for cinephiles, and ones who didn’t enjoy it are average joes, dating teenagers, and simpleminded A Haunted House 2 fans? Give it up. I sincerely hope that once that little girl of yours is born, you finally realize what’s really important in life, and being a pompous douche on the internet isn’t one of them.”

            And as always, you interpret my rants as a direct assault on everyone who didn’t like it.

            I stand by what I said. There is a big difference between knowledgeable movie lovers and general audiences. The latter can hardly process anything that works beyond the conventions of pop entertainment. The gaggle of teenagers behind me at the theater who kept whispering “What’s going on?” were a pretty clear indication that they were way out of their element at a movie like this. So, yeah, the general multiplex audience I saw it with was completely dumbstruck and angry by a movie that didn’t conform to what they wanted it to be. If it were playing at the local art house theater, the reactions would have been much more favorable.

            Oculus isn’t a conventional movie. It’s an intelligently written slow-burn that’s working at a deeper level than surface scares and twists. You make think that’s a pompous assessment, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

          • frank_dracman

            I’ve learned never to take anything Sirand says personally, Kidd. He loves to show his deep affection of intellectual, artys movies and sometimes he does sounds like a douche. But I know his comments are not directed at me. How could they be? He doesn’t know my taste in movies. I did like Funny Games (fuck the remake, though), Stoker was genuinely creepy, and I love slow burn as much as the next. You and I have similar tastes, and if I’m on the fence and if you say it sucks, I’ll wait for Netflix.

            We don’t have to like every art house movie, nor does it make us any less cultured if we don’t. There was a movie on here that people were raving about, and it was an hour and a half of some dude walking through a gorgeous house. It was fucking awful, so bad in fact I forgot the title and have no desire to waste my time looking for it. But I think I’ve made myself perfectly redundant.

            Some people really love to sound smart on the internet. Not pointing any fingers, just a general assessment.

          • Sirand

            Better to sound smart than idiotic (like 99.9% of the internet). But if you think I’m smug, go read the talkbacks over at Badass Digest… You’ll choke.

            But I digress…

            Some people say “Why does she have to explain the mirror is bad?” or “Why doesn’t she invite psychics or the media over to the house?” which is totally missing the point. The bottom line is she’s trying to reconvince her brother while leaving the first real document of the mirror behind in case her plan backfired (which it did).

            There’s a lot going on with Oculus. On the surface, it’s just a good mindfuck movie that screws with your perception. The fact that it plays the unreliable narrator game with the back story, and what you’ve been led to believe, is nothing short of masterful. And the themes of childhood mistrust and paranoia are so effective that you don’t need some “whiz bang” finale to tell an effective horror story. It’s always more effective when it’s small and personal and has real substance.

            P.S. I find it odd that you liked Funny Games but hate the remake when they are the exact same film. There’s absolutely no difference between the two other than one is in English.

          • frank_dracman

            I hate the remake of Funny Games the same way I hated the Oldboy remake. They were pointless remakes of an already good film. I’m so sick of movies being remade simply because people are to lazy/stupid to appreciate a foreign film. Eh, maybe that was harsh but you get my point.

          • Sirand

            Frank: In the case of Funny Games, that was the same filmmaker remaking his movie – not because people wouldn’t read subtitles or a studio wanted it – but because he felt his deconstruction worked better towards American movies.

          • Steve Barton

            Funny Games… I’d rather eat a bag of dicks. Thanks.

          • Sirand

            Enjoy! 😉

          • frank_dracman

            Why do I get the feeling this is your screen saver?

          • Steve Barton

            If it isn’t it should be EVERYONES!

          • kiddcapone

            I’m not one of those people who needs answers, I just believe a film that chooses to go the unconventional route needs to be strong in other categories to be memorable, otherwise it’s just art house fodder.

            I don’t care why the mirror is evil or why she didn’t invite psychics over, I’m more concerned with the lack of logical reactions once they were put in harm’s way. The brother was converted early on once he saw the dead plants and footage of him and the sister facing the cameras together. At that point, her plan was officially over, because the mirror can basically have the cameras face the wall leaving no documentation behind and also manipulate the food/drink/clocks to appear spoiled/broken. It should have been kill switch time. I would have been more satisfied if she tried to drop the anvil on it and it didn’t break, or better yet, drop it several times and have the anvil reset itself leaving her to wonder if she ever pushed the switch in the first place or if the mirror was creating that illusion.

            If they spent more time in the present dealing with the mirror unleashing evil in an attempt at self preservation rather than lingering in the past focusing on characters with already known outcomes, I would have been more entertained.

            Bottom line: It didn’t work for me.

          • Sirand

            The problem is that once they were put in harm’s way, there was no way out of it. There was no logical reaction to have because they didn’t know what was real anymore. Even when they thought they were outside the mirror’s “radius of influence,” they didn’t know if they were really there or not. And remember, she woke up in the kill switch’s path early in the movie…so just ending it there wasn’t that easy. Look what happened when the brother tried it at the end.

          • kiddcapone

            Yes, but the radius of influence expanded as the mirror gained strength, so they have opportunity before shit got out of hand.

            Plus the mirror affected people differently for whatever reason. Why possess the mother? Why not possess the kids? Why was the dad only semi-possessed?

            Don’t forget, we’re discussing a made up story, so if you got something more out of the story, cool, I wasn’t impressed.

          • MonsterMash

            Better to sound smart and show up to oculus, than be in the audience of a haunted house 2. You know, one can be smart and not sound condescending. Crazy right? And there’s nothing wrong with poking shit at a demographic who will show up for anything you put if front of them. They make horror and film in general dumber for the rest of us. Smart people are needed to make sure we still get intellectual horror films by showing up and being critical of them when they falter, and praising them where they succeed. Otherwise we’d be on haunted house 35 by now. Besides, nobody remembers the stupid horror films. Genre classics are all made by smart people. There’s nothing wrong with an intelligent discussion of oculus. I liked the movie myself.

          • kiddcapone

            But the difference here is, this is not a conversation between general audiences. We are all horror fans AND huge fans of cinema on DC so to lump and disregard dissenting opinions is what makes it pompous. I haven’t even checked out any sites yet to see how others rated it. The reasons Oculus didn’t work for me, and I’m sure many others, go beyond confusion or desire for pop entertainment. I wasn’t looking for cliché scare tactics. I am tired by twists.

            I don’t agree it’s intelligently written. I enjoy slow-burn films, I love Session 9, but it has to offer up something to compensate for the less conventional art house approach to be entertaining. Style over substance does not make a great film. If you are not going to present a coherent story, then at least make it creepy. It wasn’t. It you’re not going to build suspense towards a big climax, then at least have several memorable scenes along the way. It doesn’t.

            They say the mirror cannot be destroyed, then after the dad is shot, his head hits the mirror and it cracks. Looked like it could be damaged to me, so the sister being impaled against it should have broke it. And if the sworn promise was to destroy it, who cares if they prove it was evil on film first? They went ahead and told you how the parents died. So the fact the entire film is one giant flashback has no suspense because you know the kids will live and parents die (the Identity no longer care about the characters problem). They had survival mechanisms in place, food, water, and alarm clocks, but in reality, the mirror can manipulate all of those so they are nothing more than lame plot devices. They agree to stay together yet a majority of the film they are walking around separate. I can go on…

            Oculus didn’t work for me. I couldn’t even walk away entertained by a cool story because there was none to be found. It was essentially a poorly written story directed very well about an evil mirror, that no one knows why, or by who, and one that affects people differently, for unknown reasons, and it claimed one more victim in a long line, and a direct to video sequel will eventually follow one day at Red Box. The end.

  • kiddcapone

    Oculus….SUCKS. Not a fucking scary moment to be had. Long, and I mean LOOOOOONG stretches of nothingness. I’m all for a slow burn film. In fact, I was digging the fact it was taking it’s time, but there comes a time in the film when all patience runs out and the reality nothing scary, original, or interesting smashes you in the fucking face like a brick and you realize the ending had better be spectacular to justify the time invested or else, you just wasted 90 minutes, AGAIN, on a movie where the trailer is 500x better than the actual film.

    Well, the telegraphed ending happens exactly like any horror fan would expect. The only question was which character or both got it. No emotional connection, no real logical feel for why everything went down the way it did, whether in the past or present, and you’re left bewildered. You’re bewildered not by the story itself, but by why a story that had the cool puzzle pieces to be entertaining, never came together, and is just a pile sitting there. Unfinished random potential in a heap. Why this is even rated R is another mystery.

    Oculus – 1/5.

    • frank_dracman

      I was 99% sure it would suck based on the trailers, so thanks for erasing that 1% chance. I’ll take your word over the reviewer’s any day. Just another straight to Netflix turd.

      Speaking of Netflix, I’m gonna go watch Frankenstein’s Army again.

      • GODFLESH69

        Frankenstein’s Army was stellar sick practical effects and gory as hell!

  • Debi Moore

    As I told Serena, I was thrilled to read this review. Absentia was at the top of my Best of 2011 list, and if Oculus is even better – AND has a bona fide, satisfactory ending – well then my interest just shot up 1000%!